i'm heading to vietnam for two weeks in june. my plans are to fly into ho chi minh city where i'm meeting a friend for a day or two before i start meandering north and eventually cross into china for a build with habitat for humanity.
i prefer to not have an itinerary that is too structured as i may change my mind along the way, but i'm looking for people's thoughts on the places to go and see based on their experiences. i'm sure i'll hit nah trang and obviously hanoi, but i'd love ideas on cool spots to see and things to do. i'd love to some sort of hiking in the north or elsewhere in vietnam.
also, i'm the told the bus is the way to go....do you agree?
specific places/hotels/restaurants/whatever are appreciated as well as any general advice.
also, what's the visa requirement? i'm an american citizen and coming from the u.s.
The visa req is that you have a valid US passport. If you're flying into SGN, you can get the online VOA Approval Letter from any one of hundreds of outlets (travel agents and small hotels in VN). You can also pay much more and get a regular visa from a VN consulate in the States, but who wants to pay more. They email you a scanned copy of the letter - signed and sealed by VN Immigration. You print this out and show it to your boarding air carrier - very important since only documented travelers are allowed into the country. Once in SGN, you walk up to the visa counter, pay $25., fill out a short form with 1 passport pic, and they put the sticker visa in your passport (you can then proceed to Immigration and Customs, and you've entered Vietnam).
The bus is certainly the cheapest mode of travel, but certainly not the safest or most comfy form. VN highways are not especially safe places to be. Vietnam Airlines is the way I travel in this country. The train is much safer than the bus, but very slow, and only goes along the coast, as well to the NW Highlands. 2 weeks is not much time here - pick your own poison (this country is bigger/slower than it appears on the map). I advise you to limit the number of stops.
My favorite stops are Hanoi, Sapa and Hoi An. Saigon and Nha Trang are the party places. You should read about the country over on Travelfish.org.
June will be hotter than you know where! You should read all about the pluses and minuses associated with travel to this country - plenty of scams and problems in paradise, but it's a great country with even greater people. Use the free student guide services from Hanoikids, Saigonhotpot and Danangkids (email them for reservations a month ahead).
Before we can recommend specific places, we need to know your budget level since there is just about all prices now - the trend recently is fewer backpacker places and more upscale places. It's no longer the cheapest place in Asia, but still very affordable for Americans. I've been there 4 times and will be back in Nov for the 5th. (I can't take the heat of June).
[ Edit: Edited on 30-Mar-2012, at 22:18 by Daawgon ]
'Daawgon' gave you good advice. I bought a VN visa from the San Francisco Consulate years ago. $45. Add overnight mail both ways, $22. It cost me $67 for a 1 month VN visa and it was stressful. I got my passport back 4 days before my flight. It is cheaper to use the 'visa on arrival system' VN has in place. I used these guys, but there are dozens of other websites offering visa on arrival. Add their $14 fee plus the $25 stamp fee at Tan Son Nhat and you will save about $25 over getting your VN visa in the US.
Now transport. The open tour bus system is the cheapest, easiest way to get from HCMC to HAN. But the roads are certainly not as safe as train travel. You will need to plan ahead if you use the train. Book a few days ahead of your departure date to get the seat/class you want. You don't have to decide until you are in HCMC.
2 weeks are really not enough time to see most of VN. You will be on the move almost every other day to get up to HaNoi in 14 days. Mui Ne is not the best beach option IMO, but the sand dunes are worth one of your days. Nha Trang is a great spot for beach, partying. Use the overnight bus or train to get up to Hoi An. Saves time and 1 night's accommodation. Hoi An is on almost everyone's list of fave cities in VN. Nice beach, historic section of downtown, heaps of tailors if you want custom clothes. Hue is worth 2-3 days IMO. Ancient ruins, Imperial Capital during the Nguyen Dynasty. Plenty of things to see in Hue. Another overnight train or bus to HAN. Like 'Daawgon' suggested, save at least 3-4 days for HAN and surrounding area.
Good luck with your planning.
We rushed through Vietnam in 17 days and saw most of the things we wanted to but were pretty rushed only staying 1 or 2 nights in each place and travelling overnight most the time. I thought the buses were fine and very cheap,not always comfortable but at least the sleeper buses have beds!Hoi an and Halong bay were my highlights,Saigon's an interisting city with plenty to do and Sapa's well worth the overnight train journey to spend a day or two wandering round the countryside.I was a bit dissapointed with Mui ne but other travellers we met raved about it. Nha trang is a good beach resort to chill out for a few days.
Certainly, bus is the cheapest public transport in Vietnam, but it's not safe. You should go by train or taxi if you wan to travel from Ho Chi Minh city to go to Nha Trang, Hanoi.
If you want to visit some cool spots, you can visit Ha Long Bay, Cat Ba, Sapa, Lao Cai. In my opinion, you should visit Sapa-Lao Cai, they are moutainous area, but very beautiful. i'm sure you 'll find many strange, interesting things about people, culture, custom and food there
I am living in Hanoi
- If you want to visit around Hanoi, you can try going by "Xich Lo" (Cyclo)- the unique public transpot in Vietnam that attract many foriegn tourists
Also, you can find many hotels in Hanoi. I think 3 star standard is OK. But if you want to stay in higher standard hotels, you can stay in Nikko Hotel, Metropol Hotel....
In Hanoi, we have tour guides named Hanoi Kids. I think you should contact with them, they are very friendly, enthusiasm, they know anything about Hanoi tourism. They are volunteers. Of course, it's no tips, no charge. All things are free.
[ Edit: Edited on 31-Mar-2012, at 08:32 by jennyle ]
thanks for everybody who has posted so far. based on your responses and looking around the internet, my current thoughts are:
ho chi minh city--2 days (only because i'm meeting a friend there, doesn't seem that interesting as a big city)
take overnight bus to nha trang--2 days (i could still be talked into mui ne, those sand dunes look pretty cool, but am wondering once you get there and see those, maybe you're wondering what the heck am i doing here? wandering nomad got me wondering about it.....)
overnight to hoi an--1-2 days
then up to hanoi and the north, which seems the most appealing for me. i'll likely do some combination of hanoi, halong bay and sapa, with sapa being last because i have to end up in kunming in china so it's the logical last stop (through lao cai, right?). i definitely want to get some trekking in while in sapa, it's one of the things i really like to do.
would i go to hanoi first before halong bay or vice versa? how many days in hanoi makes sense? i'm not particularly budget conscious, generally i'd do the train/bus for the experience and meeting people, but perhaps i'd fly from hoi an to hanoi, not sure yet.
i'm not set on anything and want to be able to change things at the time depending if i'm having fun or meeting people or whatever, but i have a couple of days cushion based on the above. as i said, i'd consider mui ne and also hue, but i'd prefer fewer stops so you can check in and just chill for awhile instead of constantly being on the go. frankly another possibility would be to just skip nha trang (i live in los angeles so am around beaches all the time anyway) and maybe fly to hoi an and take it from there.
My suggestion (along the lines of what you have basically decided upon):
2 nights - HCMC
1 night - overnight bus/train to Nha Trang
1 night - Nha Trang
1 night - overnight bus to Hoi An or train to Danang then bus to Hoi An
2 nights - Hoi An
1 night - overnight bus/train to Hanoi
2 nights - Hanoi
1 night - Halong Bay (book 2 day 1 night cruise - heaps to choose from)
1 night - overnight train to Lao Cai - bus to Sapa
2 nights - Sapa (trekking)
Travel from Sapa to Chinese border
Total - 14 nights
As your visiting in June (low season) I would have an idea where you want to stay, just show up and book a room. Have a safe trip.
thanks stoneman, that's almost exactly what i'm thinking. i'm not going to book things ahead of time as i'm happy to either stay longer or leave earlier depending on what's going on.
it seems like a lot of overnight buses, but i guess that's what it takes to get to the far north. i suppose i could always fly from, say, hoi an to hanoi, but it's easy to make that decision later.
and thanks for answering my question on halong bay, sounds like it makes sense to hit hanoi first.
I can recomend with you the place to drink coffee in Hanoi:
And, Hanoi very famous about eating. You should try to eat many food in ancient streets in Hanoi. Ex: special noodle, "Pho Hanoi", "Bun cha",...
Have a nice time!
[ Edit: Sorry, no promos please. ]